This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ranjeet Menon. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Sabarimala Conundrum: Absurd Customs Need To Evolve With Time

More from Ranjeet Menon

There was a recent article in the Deccan Chronicle about the origins of the Sabarimala temple and the legend of Lord Ayyappa in which eminent historian MGS Narayanan has mentioned that the Sabarimala temple came into prominence after an arson in 1950 and the name Ayyappa originated from the ‘Ayyanar’ concept that prevailed in the 10th century Tamil Nadu villages. Those villagers used to worship a local legendary warrior called ‘Ayyan’ meaning the one who protects. The article is actually an eyeopener to the myths and stories that have transformed Sabarimala from a local village temple into a money spinning machine that is in the eye of the storm now.

There is another video about Lord Ayyappa in which Girish Kumar, a proponent of tantrasashtra, an ancient and renowned method of self realization, has decoded two aspects about the legend. One is about the position in which Ayyappa is shown to be sitting, with a piece of cloth tied around his legs. According to yoga shashtra, this is a position called “yoga pattaasanam” which is used to sit in penance for a long time and the cloth is an indispensable part of the yogic position. The second is about the story of Ayyappa being born to Shiva and Vishnu. The story stretches back to the time of the churning of the ocean of milk (which we now understand as the creation of the Milky Way). The devas (Gods) and asuras (Demons) joined hands in the churning process from which the pot of ‘Amruth’ or divine nectar emerged into the hands of the asuras. The devas obviously wanted to obtain it so they approached Vishnu for help who disguised himself as a celestial beauty to entice the asuras and distract them so that the devas could steal it. This story got extended to where Shiva fell in love with this disguise of Vishnu and a child ensued from the thigh of Vishnu and that child is Ayyappa. Girish Kumar has dismissed the birth story of Ayyappa with a deeper meaning associated with yoga and the flow of energy in our body. He essentially says the one who has full control over the 5 chakras in his body is the one who should be termed as Ayyappa, and that Shiva and Vishnu are just representations of the male and female energies just like the concept of yin and yang in China.

Ancient Indian texts and specifically the Puranas abound with the stories of mythological gods. Just like Asgard of Viking folklore and Mount Olympus of the Greeks, there is Indraloka (the abode of Indra) in Indian mythology where entities with the abilities to control and manipulate the five elements and the energy of the Universe reside. But the entire cosmos is created, maintained and destroyed by the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (Shiva). Of these three, only Shiva has been most widely worshipped, by all other Gods, demons and humans alike because he handles the most intense task of destroying the universe in such a way that a new universe can be created again. This is why he has control over maximum energy of the cosmos and also over both fire and water. Fire because it burns everything and cleanses without itself getting dirty and then water to start life again. Trimurti is symbolic of stability as is Shiva’s Trident (similar to Poseidon’s Trident in Greek mythology) just like the 3 primary colours, the 3-pin electric plug and the tripod stand.

Sabarimala Temple

After the ancient texts were written, they were extended to add more gods over time and that is how it has grown to a staggering 33 crore gods. There were many good men and women on whom divinity was bestowed over the course of time. Legends and stories were tied to their lives and thus were given the godly status. Gautam Buddha and even Shirdi Sai Baba are examples of this. Facts and stories merge with time to such an extent that it becomes impossible to separate them. So Ayyan was a village hero who was looked up to by the people. Then his stories became legends which were then tied to the stories of the Gods in the Puranas and that is how he attained divinity and acquired the name of Ayyappa.

Cut to the present crisis at Sabarimala; it can be resolved with a few simple questions. Can anyone prove that Ayyappa himself created all the rules and rituals at Sabarimala? Did he mention that menstruating women should not enter the temple? Is there any written proof of any of this? All of these customs were created by people over time. Irrespective of which temple, don’t visit temples during their menstruation cycle. But at other times, women have access to all temples. Then why not to Sabarimala is the question they are asking. It all comes down to the 41 days’ abstention period men undertake before going to Sabarimala. But why just to Sabarimala and not to other temples? Has Ayyappa himself created this diktat? I had written an article earlier about how the Supreme Court could have given a more balanced judgment.

There is a similar tragic situation in Kerala which needs to be mentioned here. KJ Yesudas, the renowned singer from Kerala who has sung in almost every language in India is an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna and has sung many of the songs that get played in temples. But he has never been given access to enter Guruvayur temple because he is a Christian. The absurdity is in the fact that his voice can have access to the temple’s sanctum sanctorum but not his body. What if Krishna himself came one day and sat inside the temple? Will people have the temerity to tell him that you can hear the voice of Yesudas but he cannot come inside because he is a Christian? What does Krishna have to do with Christianity and all the societal rules we have created and are still holding on to?

The sheer stupidity of human customs and mindset is beyond comprehension. People are resorting to violence now in Kerala because of the Supreme Court order which is very simple. Women wanted equal access to Sabarimala like all other temples which the Court could not refuse. Now the rest is up to the people themselves. Women who don’t want to go need not go. Kerala government has no option but to implement the court’s order. Hindu nationalists led by the RSS are opposing it on the ground. They forced and pulled down the working of the state machinery yesterday in this name in addition to stoning buses and causing destruction of public infrastructure. Is Ayyappa asking all of this to be done in his name? All parties involved in this conundrum are trying to extract political or some other mileage out of it. Divinity is only namesake and it is all about vested interests.

The latest news to come out is that Mala Araya community are reclaiming their rights and privileges on Sabarimala that were taken away from them in 1950 when the Travancore Devaswom Board was formed. Another author and historian A Sreedhara Menon has claimed in his book about Sabarimala having deep rooted connections with Buddhist ideologies. All of these goes to show that the hype around Sabarimala was built up after 1950 and the entire myth of Ayyappa was inflated to attract hordes of devotees.

No one should get fooled by the situation at Sabarimala. If the state government wanted to really implement the SC order, they could have chased away the protesters. If the protesters do not want the SC order to be implemented they should have had opposed it fiercely when the issue was in court. Both sides are playing the one upmanship game and trying to extract political brownie points out of the situation.

Religious beliefs and traditions are steeped in emotions and sentiments whereas courts depend on evidence, situations and merits of arguments to pronounce judgements. They lie on diametrically opposite sides of the society’s periphery. After the triple talaq dilemma and now this issue, in India’s complex and diverse society we need to really look at whether the courts should get involved in such issues. There is no point in wasting the judiciary’s time, then oppose its judgements with disdain and make it look like a toothless entity. History is proof of the fact that there was a court order to protect the contentious Babri Masjid and what transpired after that. It is high time people stopped themselves from getting exploited for their votes.

I have taken time to write all of this down because I want to request people to use their logic and commonsense and not give any attention to what is going on now at Sabarimala. This is all about customs and traditions and both have to evolve and change with time.

You must be to comment.

More from Ranjeet Menon

Similar Posts

By Avyukta

By Melanie Dhar

By Swami Shankar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below